Blog Posts by Adrienne Burke

  • Even Small Brands Can Use Game Apps to Engage Customers

    Cupcakes vs. Veggies is a mobile game app developed by TreSensa

    If you visit the Progressive website from your mobile device, tablet, or computer, you can waste hours playing free video games instead of shopping for insurance. One, called RocketCat, lets you fly a feline with a jet-pack through an animated underwriters' office, blowing Progressive “P” logos out of the air.

    The car insurance company is just one of many major brands that are increasingly using gaming apps as marketing tools. Unlikely as it seems, they’re succeeding in getting customers to spend 5, 10, even 20 minutes at a time playing their branded video games—and presumably developing warm, fuzzy feelings for their logos.

    The online trade publication Mobile Marketer reported last month: “Brands and marketers have been rolling out fun mobile games to engage consumers and increase brand awareness.” The article described a new Sports Jeopardy game app from Sony Pictures Television, a game from the NFL and the American Heart Association that encourages users to get active, and one from

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  • Could Your Business Be More Profitable with Women at the Helm?

    Companies that have women in decision-making positions and on their boards have been shown to have better financial performance, according to Christine Lagarde, the first female chief of the International Monetary Fund. In an interview with NPR's Renee Montagne this morning Lagarde, who is known to have said that the financial downturn might have turned out differently if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters, said:

    “I do believe that women have different ways of taking risks, of ruminating a bit more before they jump to conclusions. And I think that as a result, particularly on the trading floor, in the financial markets in general, the approach would be different. I'm not suggesting that all key functions and roles should be held by women. But if you look at the studies, and there were quite a few that were done by … various financial observers of the markets, it's apparently very clear now that those companies that have several female directors on their boards and females in

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  • The Grommet Seals Future for Two Innovative Inventions

    O-rings from Increment Studios will be crowdfunded

    Opening Day at Fenway Park is still more than a week away, but two teams had big wins there on Thursday.

    The Boston-based product launch and e-commerce site for makers, The Grommet, known for bringing brands including GoldieBlox, SodaStream, FitBit, and Bananagrams to market, held its Second Annual Product Pitch and Game Day at the famous field last week, in search of the “next big thing.”

    In a competition to win a free crowdfunding campaign or the chance to bring an invention to market, The Grommet invited eight finalists to pitch their problem-solving consumer products to a panel of tech, design, and business experts including leaders of Indiegogo, TechStars, and the Boston Design Museum. Products had to be “ready for crowdfunding” or “ready for market” to qualify.

    Jules Pieri and Joanne Domeniconi co-founded The Grommet in 2008 to promote what they call “Citizen Commerce,” a movement to enable “product purchases that express powerful contemporary values around sustainability,

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  • Credit Card Transaction Fees Killing Your Margins? Dwolla to the Rescue

    A soccer fan club saved more than $30,000 in PayPal fees with Dwolla

    The 18,000-member soccer fan club American Outlaws is offering $150 discounts on a package trip to the World Cup in Brazil this summer to members who pay online via Dwolla instead of PayPal. So far, the club has paid $58 in Dwolla transaction fees instead of $32,527 to PayPal.

    The Dwolla platform, which charges $0.25 per transaction, no matter the transaction size, has the potential to disrupt the credit card industry and save business owners a bundle of money.

    Credit card swipe fees are the bane of many a small business. Every transaction can cost 3 percent or more in interchange fees. For online retailers the fees are virtually unavoidable; even PayPal transactions cost a seller 2.9 percent.

    Large retailers operating on bigger margins can pass those costs along to the customer. But small businesses can’t compete that way. Swipe fees can reduce their profit margins by half—costing as much as a part-time worker, or a new piece of equipment would. What’s more, merchants don’t see the

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  • Countdown to Tax Day: Get Your Deductions in a Row

    In case you are clueless, with 25 days till tax day, accountants would like you to know that writing off facelifts, bail bonds, and pets as business expenses are surefire ways to invite an IRS audit. Those were among the more entertaining deductions reported by more than 400 small business accountants in a recent survey commissioned by the online accounting software provider Xero and conducted by Zogby Analytics.

    But even less outrageous missteps—such as taking a large number of deductions, deducting as business expenses those that could appear to be personal, mistaking or misstating the status of your workers, or writing off a home office—could trigger an audit, accountants say.

    How to avoid that? Accountants, no surprise, suggest seeing your accountant. Others say don't shortchange yourself. If a deduction is legitimate, take it, but be ready to back it up with documentation in case you are flagged for an audit.

    Though they warn against mixing your business and personal expenses,

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  • Leveraging the Cloud to Boost Your Bottom Line

    Looking for ways to whittle away some of your fixed costs of doing business? Leave it to a tech company to tell you there’s an app for that.

    Mike Pugh, VP of marketing at J2 Global, is helping his customers bring down their expenses now to prepare themselves for the day minimum wages rise. And he says small businesses can really simplify and streamline their operations by getting rid of the hardware and software that impose fixed costs. He recommends moving any front- or back-office function that is not adding value onto the cloud where companies [like J2] provide services to manage them professionally.

    Here’s his advice for engaging the latest cloud-based apps to save dollars.

    Ditch your fax. “Faxes are key to commerce,” Pugh says. “Accountants, lawyers, real estate agents, and loan officers love them.” But cloud-based fax services mean that no startup company ever need invest in a fax machine again.

    Do a Yahoo search for “cloud based fax services” to find the plethora of

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  • A Texas Startup Exports Consumer Electronics to China

    Oransi air purifiers in a shipping container in China

    There are two remarkable facts about a consumer electronics product designed and manufactured by a 16-person startup called Oransi: it's American made, and it's selling like hotcakes in China. Oransi CEO Peter Mann expects to do $10 million in sales of his high-end air purifiers this year. Half of that revenue will come from filling up empty shipping containers going out of New York harbor. Oransi's Chinese distributors are trying to keep up with demand from homeowners there who are desperate to combat severe air pollution. Mann says the first 500 units he shipped to China sold out in 3 days.

    Mann, 47, is a former Naval officer who held executive positions at Tech Data and Dell before starting, and selling, his own high-end appliance e-commerce company in Austin, Texas, and then investing $200,000 in 2010 to make a business of building hospital-grade residential air filtration systems. He conceived the idea when his infant son was battling life-threatening asthma and every system he

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  • There’s a (Big Data) Science to Keeping Your Customers

    Retention Science Uses Data to Keep E-Commerce Customers ComingIt costs significantly more to win new customers than it does to retain the ones you have, and it’s easier to get existing customers to spend more money than it is to sell to those who don’t know your brand. So why do so many businesses work harder on getting new customers than they do on retaining the ones they already have?

    E-commerce entrepreneur-turned-marketing pro Jerry Jao confesses he was guilty of the same. “I was constantly getting new customers, but I didn’t have any plan for retaining them. I spent a lot of time and 100 percent of my marketing budget on acquiring new customers through new channels,” Jao says.

    He cites Advertising Age data that indicates that repeat customers spend 33 percent more on brands than new customers do, and that 80 percent of a brand’s future profits will come from 20 percent of its existing customers. “Small businesses start off with a smaller customer base and are always thinking about how to grow, but they forget they have a gold mine to dig

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  • Secrets from the Scalerator: Are You Targeting the Right Customer?

    The final installment in a 4-part series about businesses that met the AmEx OPEN Scalerator challenge to grow their revenues 15 percent in three months.

    Able Access Transportation

    Do you really know who your customer is? By reevaluating the target of her sales pitch, Annette Tipton has put her company on track for a year of record-breaking revenues.

    Tipton is co-owner with her husband of Able Access Transportation, a paratransit service they established in 2001 in Milwaukee, Wis., that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She was one of 12 participants last fall in AmEx OPEN’s pilot Scalerator training program, which helps existing businesses develop strategies for growth.

    To be sure, Tipton was in a growth mode before the course started. Thanks to upgrading her fleet, moving into a remodeled building in a more central location, installing a new telephone system, fully integrating the software system, enabling all vehicles with GPS, and outfitting drivers with sharp uniforms to update the brand identity, Able

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  • This Couple Swam Away from the Shark Tank with $200,000

    By the time Noam and Irene Krasniansky’s Shark Tank pitch aired on ABC on Friday, February 28th, their reusable paper-towel product, Bambooee, was already available in northern California Costco stores, several Whole Foods stores, and thousands of natural food shops nationwide. It had won an innovation award at the 2012 International Home & Housewares Show, and was featured on Good Morning America, where three out of three mom testers approved.

    Bambooee, which the Krasnianskys call "the un-paper towel," brought in revenues of $122,000 last year. They expect triple those sales this year. But help from the Sharks, they say, could help “take Bambooee to the next level.” Noam tells Yahoo! Small Business that he and his wife auditioned with 50,000 other entrepreneurs for a spot on Shark Tank because: “We’re not a large corporation with a lot of money, connections, and wherewithal for distribution. This is an innovative idea and we wanted it to grow quickly, so we needed the right partner

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